There was a lot to be excited about before last Thursday’s show at Tipitina’s. While rising hip-hop impresario G-Eazy spent the last month on a series of late summer mini-tours, we spent it listening to his latest full length release – August’s The Endless Summer – on repeat. He’s been a fixture on the local rap scene and blogosphere consciousness for a few years, but in the last six weeks his popularity has surged and as his national profile has grown exponentially.
Back in New Orleans for the first time since the album dropped, it was apparent that G-Eazy’s widespread notoriety is no accident. He crow-hopped through a series of college-dude boasts and weed-induced and inspired serenades with an infectious swagger, and human metronome Blake Robinson added a relentless barrage of live drums that rounded out and elevated G’s already ingenious beats. By the time he welcomed his friends Team Robot out to close his set with a monstrous take on their monstrous collaboration “Run”, the young crowd was reaching the levels of mass hysteria reserved for the 50s and 60s rock ‘n’ roll legends to whom G-Eazy has been paying so much homage these days. The performance put a fine point on G-Eazy’s emergence as one of the city’s marquee talents, and provided an ascendant foreword to the eclectic evening’s main event.
The last time MyNameIsJohnMichael took the stage at Tipitina’s, it marked one of lead man John Michael Rouchell’s first local gigs with his band’s new lineup and arrangement, and it showed. While newly enlisted drummer Neilson Bernard and keyboardist Phillip Breen, as well as the dedicated three-part horn section, busted through songs new and old with accuracy and even aplomb, the manic energy that had once been the band’s calling card seemed to be replaced with a polite deference towards faithful live reproduction. Admittedly, though, there lies very little utility in comparing the MNIJM of 2009 or 2010 with the current incarnation. Rouchell continues to deftly embrace the evolution of his project instead of raging against it, and has recently re-emerged with music and a band as charming and engaging as ever, just for a host of very different reasons. Still, it was hard not to miss the wild kineticism of five guys practically somersaulting between instruments that was paramount in the old MyNameIsJohnMichael.
Six months and a nationwide whistle-stop tour later, MNIJM returned to Tip’s as a fully coalesced unit markedly more comfortable with themselves, the music and each other. The interplay between Rouchell and bassist Joe Bourgeois, the only other holdover from the original lineup, was as dynamic as ever, but this time around their innate chemistry was set against the heady ease of a backing band confidently flexing their battled tested chops. New singles “Orphan” and “Elders” sounded even slinkier and more playful than they do on tape, and the wicked horn section weaseled some extra soul out of The People That Come And Go staples like “Misery Runs”.
It was an exciting night night of music, with both G-Eazy and Rouchell making loud pronouncements through their spirited live sets: One man let the world know he has arrived and the other reminded it he isn’t going anywhere.